A non-Western view of why Thucydides shouldn’t be put on a pedestal (or a syllabus)

When I was a student back in Intro to IR, I confess I never even touched Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War, or even Machiavelli and Hobbes for that matter. The first so-called realist I was exposed to was Hans Morgenthau, and that was thanks to a translated version of Politics Among Nations (the copy which I never finished and I presume is lost). It was only when I started my MSc that I began to read the Peloponnesian War—mostly from Wikipedia and bits and bits from Donald Kagan’s four-volume work on the Peloponnesian War. Right now, I find Donald Kagan’s version to be much easier to follow than the original Thucydides.

For me, Thucydides was too heavy. Even with the help of maps, indexes, and annotations in Strassler’s Landmark Thucydides, I still found myself lost and not immersed in what Thucydides claimed as a “possession for all time”. Maybe I simply didn’t have the intellectual acuity to follow Thucydides’ magisterial work.

But this did not stop me from trying to assign parts of Thucydides in my syllabi.

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Le’ Notes #49: Foreign policy analysis – it all starts at home

So far, we’ve covered how foreign policy is formulated and executed by individuals or a small group of individuals. We’ve discussed how these individuals often do not make so-called rational decisions; instead, they are often influenced by their own outlooks of the world and their institutional interests.

But for most of the world, foreign policy is not always just dictated by individuals. This is not to say that these prominent individuals do not have any power. There are often many other parties that may restrain the extent of an individual’s (or a small group of individuals’) power. You might know these as domestic political institutions, and they play an important role in keeping democracies afloat.

In this post, we’ll explore the role these institutions play in shaping foreign policy. Note that here, I use the term “institutions” quite loosely to refer to the many domestic structures that exist in democracies, such as political parties. This doesn’t cover public opinion, interest groups or the media; that’ll be addressed in a later post.

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Le’ Notes #48: On the use of coast guards in Asia-Pacific

The coast guard—specifically the US Coast Guard—is usually the butt of jokes in the military. Their job is like the Navy, but with smaller boats, guns, and less action (even though there were some moments where the USCG did shine). 

Jokes aside, coast guards are an important asset in maritime security. They handle maritime security at home, dealing with the “small” stuff so the navy can handle the bigger threats out there in the high seas. The Coast Guard’s role is largely tied to law enforcement: policing territorial waters and keeping them safe from illegal fishing, pirates, human traffickers, and drug smugglers. Recently, coast guards have started to take on more expanded roles, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. The Chinese Coast Guard has been making headlines lately due to their increased presence (and aggressiveness) in the South China Sea which adds on to the regional tensions. This has been followed by the expansion of other coast guards, such as Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam.

As interest in and use of coast guards will likely increase in the near future, I’ll be reviewing the literature to understand how coast guards have been used as a tool of statecraft over the years. I’ll focus more on the Asia-Pacific, since that’s where coast guards are getting more attention.

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Creative potholes and the liberating feeling of having freedom to create

My writing has stifled, but I am not talking about raw numbers. As far as numbers are concerned, I think I’m writing more than ever—mostly due to work demands. It’s just that the quality of my writing seems to be slipping, and this is apparent in my scholarly work. I just don’t feel like I’m living up to a certain standard, that I’m always falling short, that I’ll never be like the “cool guys” at the proverbial top, wherever that “top” may be.

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Le’ Notes #47: Foreign policy analysis – group units

As I covered in Note #44, the individual leader is not the only person making foreign policy decisions. Even if the buck stops there, the buck may have been passed from one person to another, and in the process, the final ‘buck’ is a result of a synthesis of often conflicting opinions and interests. In this note then, we’ll explore how groups, especially those close to the leader, have a hand in shaping foreign policy decisions. 

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Ivory Tower Writing #22: The writer’s practice

Were you expecting an instructional post? This time, I wanted to take a break from the instructionals and take a detour. I want to write a bit about the writer’s practice. 

Specifically, I want to discuss John Warner’s most recent book titled Why They Can’t Write. Among the books I’ve read this year, I feel like this is the most impactful book I’ve read. The reason being is that it forced me to reflect on both the way I approach writing and how I teach my students academic writing. 

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Ivory Tower Writing #21: Writing a theoretical framework

Most of the time, your professor will likely ask you to support your paper with a theoretical framework. What you think this means may be, 

“Oh, I just need to find a theory that fits my current problem,” 

Or maybe, 

“I just need to list every single theory which I think has the slightest relevance to the topic I’m writing about,”

However, this isn’t usually the case. So what is a theoretical framework and how should you go around to creating one? Don’t worry, this is what this post is about.

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Functioning and teaching from home: some notes

It’s been 3.5 months since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Indonesia. I decided quickly to move away from Jakarta, the epicentrum, to my hometown in Bali. I thought I could function better at home, back with my parents, instead of being cooped up in a shoebox with nobody to talk to. The university also ordered all faculty to stay at home until July, which is among the more generous policies compared to other universities. 

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Ivory Tower Writing #20: Composition – the five paragraph essay

In Ivory Tower Writing #10, I discussed some general guidelines on how to compose paragraphs, structure paragraphs, and some tips on how to create “flow” in your essay. In this post, I’ll discuss the classic five-paragraph essay and how it helps students grasp the basics of composition and coherence. I’ll also cover some problems of the five-paragraph essay and how it should ideally be used in instruction.

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